Road trip: Ellijay's the place for all things apple

Ginger Gold, Rome Beauty, Pink Lady, Mutsu, Honey Crisp, Winesap and Granny Smith. These aren't characters in a tawdry B-movie; they're just a few of the many varieties of apples grown in the orchards of North Georgia near the town of Ellijay in Gilmer County.

Situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the orchards produce more than 600,000 bushels a year. Fall is prime harvest time and it's usually a bumper crop in Ellijay, celebrated with the annual Georgia Apple Festival each October.

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Georgia Apple Festival

Local leaders started the festival in 1970 to celebrate the crop that saved Ellijay in the 1920s when the boll weevil epidemic infested cotton fields and sent the economies of many Southern communities into a tailspin. Ellijay was spared by its apple crop, and the festival celebrates all things apple.

Apple-based foods, arts and crafts permeate the fairgrounds where the festival takes place. There are hundreds of vendor and exhibitor booths that would take more than an afternoon to explore.

The festival is on the second and third full weekends in October. Plan on making the short road trip from Atlanta on one or both of the weekends to see the classic car show on Oct. 9 and/or the festival parade on the Oct. 16.

Local orchards

A trip to Ellijay wouldn't be complete without taking a short side trip into the orchards themselves. Head east from Ellijay on Ga. 52 to pick your own and enjoy other activities at the orchards along this stretch of highway known as Apple Alley.

B.J. Reece Apple House. On select dates you can purchase a bag, head out into the orchards and fill it up. Visit the petting zoo, choose from a variety of fried pies in the bakery or just bring a picnic basket to have a relaxing lunch on the grounds and wash it all down with some fresh, homemade apple cider. 9131 Ga. 52 East,

Hillcrest Orchards. A smorgasbord of activities and attractions await at this orchard, including the Farmhouse Museum, the Moonshine Museum, a nature trail, peddle-cart track, wagon rides, bungee jumping, bobbing for apples and more. Hillcrest has its own festival every weekend in October called the Apple Pickin' Jubilee, with live country music, pig races and lots of Southern-style food such as barbecue. $5 per person. $3 additional for the petting zoo. 9696 Ga. 52 East,

R&A Orchards. This 70-acre farm is fronted by a large roadside market selling a variety of jar goods such as salsas, dressings, juices, jams and apple butter, as well as plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Tours of the orchard are available by appointment and include a wagon ride and picking your own apples. Admission is free. 5505 Ga. 52 East,

If you go

Ellijay is 1 hour and 20 minutes from downtown Atlanta. Take I-75 North to I-575 North, which turns into Ga. 515 and will take you into Ellijay.

Where to stay

Blue Sky Cabin Rentals. One of the best ways to experience a weekend in the North Georgia mountains is by renting a cabin. This agency has plenty of options in the Ellijay area to choose from, but book ASAP for the festival because October is prime time for this region. Rates start at $115 per night (depending on availability) and may require a minimum stay. 678-313-1293,

Stratford Motor Inn. Motel near the fairgrounds where the festival is held. Rates start at $119.95 during the festival. 79 Maddox Circle, East Ellijay. 706-276-1080,

Where to eat

Charlie's Italian Restaurant. Home-style pizza and pasta in a family-friendly atmosphere. Whole pies and entrees $10.50-$19.95. 526 Maddox Drive, Suite 103, Ellijay. 706-635-2205,

Poole's Bar-B-Q. Colorful and eccentric roadside barbecue joint. Sandwiches start at $3.95, plates at $6.95 (kids plates start at $4.75). 164 Craig St., East Ellijay. 706-635-4100,

Visitor information

Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce. 706-635-7400,

Provided by Demand Studio